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Voluntary Confessions given While In Custody

Date Posted to Site: 05/28/2009

#38) Corley v. United States (decided April 6, 2009)

5-4. Justice David Souter authored the opinion in favor of Johnnie Corley. The ruling affirms a 1957 Court decision protecting criminal suspects from lengthy detentions before theyre formally charged in front of a judge. The opinion holds that voluntary confessions given by suspects held in custody longer than six hours must be reviewed by a trial judge before theyre admitted into evidence. In those instances, the judge must determine if a suspect held in excess of six hours was "unnecessary or unreasonable."

Johnnie Corley was convicted of robbing $47,532 from a Norristown, Penn. bank. A couple months after the heist, FBI agents arrested him. While in custody, agents interrogated Corley until he confessed to the bank robbery. But 29 hours had elapsed between Corley's arrest and his initial appearance before a judge. At trial, Corley's lawyers were unsuccessful in their attempts to have the confession tossed. A jury convicted him and he was sentenced to more than 14 years behind bars.

The opinion says a lower appeals courtwhich had upheld the confessionmust go back and examine if there was unnecessary or unreasonable delay in presenting Corley before the magistrate judge. If so, then the confession must be withheld from evidence. A dissenting opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by the Courts more conservative members defended the admissibility of the confession saying a federal law passed after the 1957 Supreme Court decision shows the trial court judges decision to accept the confession was correct.




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